Sunday, November 22, 2015

Justice AND Love

The heart of our religion can be summarized with one simple phrase: reconciliation with God. We who were once far from God because of our sin have been brought near to Him by Jesus. The God who was once our judge and enemy has become our Father. There are other ways to think about the faith, like being forgiven or getting to heaven. These certainly are part of what is going on. But they do not capture what is at the heart of it all. The essence is not about status or place. It’s about relationship. The relationship between God and us has been dramatically changed. We have been reconciled to Him.

If that’s the case then it explains what happens after that great act of reconciliation. Now that we have been restored to God we can get to know Him. Please note that I didn’t say that we have to get to know Him. We can get to know Him. To know God is no boring obligation. It is the point of our existence. It is why we were created. Getting to know God is what makes life work. Having been reconciled we can get to know God.

So, what is He like? What does He like? What does He not like? Who is this God? Getting to know God is the great quest of our lives here and even on into eternity. This morning we’re going to take another little step forward in that fascinating journey.

Listen again to what Adam said to God after he ate.
I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. Genesis 3.10
As I told you last week, Adam faced a threat. God had told him that if he ate he would die. And Adam ate. Understand that there was no provision for forgiveness. People think that God will always forgive because for some reason He has to. But He doesn’t. Forgiveness was not possible for Adam. There was no Gospel then. So, the threat was real. Death was inevitable. Adam knew that, and he was afraid.

So, when God showed up what happened? God kept His promise. He always keeps His promises. He promised death, and that’s exactly what happened on that day. Adam experienced death. Some of that death happened immediately. So, his relationship with Eve was ripped to shreds. Remember how he blamed Eve for what happened?
The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.
What is that? It’s Adam saying, ‘It’s her fault. Kill her. Don’t kill me.’

Adam’s relationship with God was also ruined. Remember how Adam and Eve were excommunicated from God. The Garden, that first temple of God’s special presence, was now off limits. And then, there is all the rest of the evil of this promised death, climaxing in Adam’s body finally failing him. God kept that promised threat. God cursed Adam with death.

Now, here’s the question that I want to probe. Something of God’s character is being revealed here. What is it? What does this tell us about God? Remember, the goal now is to get to know God. What happened to Adam reveals something about God, something that we can get to know about Him. What is it?

Here’s one thing that’s obvious. God threatens. And His threats are not empty threats. God acts on His threats. Why is that? Is it because He’s a grouch who just likes to give people a hard time? No. It’s because He is a God who loves justice. All of His threats are simply expressions of His sense of justice. There is right, and there is wrong. Right will be rewarded, and wrong will be punished. Eating from the tree was wrong. It deserved to be punished. And it was. The God we worship has established right and wrong, and He insists on enforcing His rules. And He can do that because He runs this creation.

This will become more concrete if I read some Scripture to you. So, there is this warning, this threat, from Deuteronomy.
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.
You can see here another expression of the theme of rewarding those who do right, those who obey. But there is also that other theme here, and it is presented quite starkly. God punishes those who do wrong, those who hate God and show it by their disobedience. And note the jarring clarity of the threat.
He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.
This God is a God who loves justice and acts to uphold it.

That leads to this warning from Hebrews.
For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
Those are sobering words, again reflecting God’s sense of justice. And those sentences are followed by this one.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
This God utters threats, clear threats, and He acts on them.

With all of that in mind, let’s talk about hell. Hell is God’s vengeance. It is His repaying someone to his face. It is someone falling into the hands of the living God - forever. But what could it be like? Let’s try this. I’ve been telling you that the Gospel deals with the consequences of sin: guilt, shame and fear. Christians have had their guilt, shame and fear dealt with. And even unbelievers have experienced something of God’s kind common grace in that their sense of guilt, shame and fear is now limited. But that explains something about hell. Everyone in hell will feel - thoroughly feel - the full weight of their guilt. They will understand that they have sinned, repeatedly, against a holy God. Everyone in hell will feel the utter shame of their having failed to live according to what their Creator had set out for them; the unremitting shame of failure. And then there is fear. In hell there will be so much to be afraid of - without even a scrap of ability to deal with those fears. Everlasting powerlessness. In hell there will be no limit to the sense of guilt, shame and fear that people will feel. Hell is experiencing the full force of the consequences of sin. Hell is about the God of justice who keeps His promises to justly punish those who do wrong.

Now, here’s my point. All of this reveals something of who God is. He is the God of justice. And if you would succeed at getting to know Him better, you will work to understand His sense of justice. You need to understand how important that is to Him.

It’s here that so many pull back from what I have said. They cannot imagine a God like this. And so, they confidently state that He isn’t like this. He can’t be. No, He is a God of love. A God of love wouldn’t act like this. But please note this. Those who refuse to understand God’s sense of justice will never really understand God’s love. It isn’t that God is either a God of justice or a God of love. He is both. And each of those two qualities explains the other.

Listen to Paul:
The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
This is a deeply personal statement about the Gospel from Paul that I hope all of you can imitate. ‘Jesus loved me and He gave Himself for me.’ It would be good to remind yourselves of that truth from time to time.

So, how did Jesus do this for me? How did He love me? Well, He gave Himself for me. What’s that about? It’s about the Cross. Jesus suffered the justice of God for me. Those threats that God uttered so that I wouldn’t sin? They didn’t work. I sinned. But God did not repay me to my face for my rebellion. He did not destroy me. It was not I who fell into the hands of an angry God. And I will never have to face the crushing awareness of my guilt or shame or fear. I have not faced, nor will I ever face, the justice of God. And the only reason? Jesus loved me and as a result He gave Himself for me. And He did the same for you. Jesus faced the justice of God for us.

So, you see, it is the justice of God that reveals how surprising and staggering the love of God really is. The two are not opposed to each other. They go together.

So, do I believe in a God of love? Absolutely!! I am overwhelmed at times as I consider His love for me. It is enormous. And do you know why it is that I am overwhelmed by this God of love? It’s because I believe that He is also a God of justice. The God I know is no God of sentimental feelings of some counterfeit ‘love’. Sentimentalism is all that would be left if you reject God’s sense of justice. I believe in the real love of God, a love that is wise and mysterious and eminently powerful, a love that actually does something, a love that deals with justice. I believe in a love that changes lives. God’s love has changed my life. And it has changed yours.

The need of the day is for Christians to get to know their God. That has always been important, but it seems especially important these days. So many Christians are being misled about who their God is. Silly notions of a god who loves but who cares nothing about justice are rife. This is a god whose love does not actually accomplish anything. When push comes to shove that kind of god will not come through. It’s just an idol of our times. And those who worship idols become like them: people with sentimental notions of love that just cannot stand up to the troubles of real life.

Don’t be fooled. Get to know the real God.

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